Sex workers thrown under bus in Latimer case

Photo: Scarlet Alliance

Western Australia Supreme Court Justice Anthony Derrick approved the release of repeat sex offender Edward William Latimer on July 9. Latimer has offences dating back to the 1970s and has spent most of his adult life in prison.

His crimes include the attempted rape of an intoxicated man sleeping in a Northbridge park, a violent sex attack on a woman at a Perth train station, numerous counts of indecent dealings for propositioning and harassing women, and wilful exposure.

He was jailed indefinitely in 2006 after becoming the first person to be prosecuted under WA’s Dangerous Sex Offenders Act.

Despite having breached bail conditions twice and court psychiatrists warning he is at high risk of offending again unless placed under 24/7 monitoring, Derrick chose to release Latimer back into the community under a 10-year supervision order which includes 52 conditions.

These conditions include: a curfew, no alcohol, no pornography and no unsupervised access to women — except in the case of sex workers, which is allowed by approval of a supervision order officer.

Latimer specifically asked to be allowed to visit sex workers as part of his release conditions.

While admitting that Latimer was a “serious danger to the community” in his judgment, Derrick said the risk could be managed in the community.

He added: “Access to sex workers will not of itself resolve the issue of the respondent’s ability to manage his sexual urges … [but] the option for the respondent to engage in regular, albeit infrequent, sexual contact should serve as an additional protective factor.”

Despite huge uproar from the wider community, Attorney-General John Quigley refused to appeal the release conditions, stating: “I don’t see anything in the judge’s decision which is appealable.

“My understanding of sex work is that for the exchange of money, the female will willingly consent...

“If he approaches a sex worker with a community supervision officer, while this is a bit unseemly for us all, it’s not involving an offence and it’s not putting any human being at risk.”

Under WA legislation, sex work and its related activities are mostly criminalised and policed in a heavy-handed and inconsistent manner. Many sex workers have reported experiencing police harassment and exploitation, and are hesitant to report crimes committed against them for fear of being prosecuted themselves.

They also face discrimination and stigma on a daily basis when accessing various community services such as healthcare, welfare, accommodation, education and the court system.

WA’s archaic laws already place sex workers in harm’s way. Yet Derrick and Quigley are seemingly fine with throwing sex workers under the proverbial bus in the case of Latimer.

If it were not so horrifying, it would be almost laughable how indifferent these two seem to be regarding this gross breach of human rights.

Sex workers are members of the community, yet their rights have been disregarded in this abhorrent decision.

Sex workers are not “protective factors” for violent sex offenders. Such statements equate sex workers to human shields who are scapegoated to ensure the rest of the community is spared.

Sex workers are autonomous and decide who they will and will not see. Payment does not equal automatic consent.

Sex workers are already disadvantaged when it comes to reporting crimes committed against them.

The only way to end the systematic oppression, scapegoating and discrimination of sex workers is by decriminalising sex work and ensure sex workers are protected by specific anti-discrimination laws.

Until this occurs, sex workers will continue to walk the fine line of having to choose between what is legal and what is safe.

It is disappointing to see that sex work stigma is still rife among those appointed to govern and protect human rights.

As is the fact that the relative comfort of a repeat sex offender is more important than the safety and rights of an already marginalised group.

Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence supporting decriminalisation, the tireless lobbying of sex work rights activists and the progressive steps taken in other states towards decriminalising sex work in recent times, it seems WA still has a long way to go.

[Emma Softly is president of peer sex worker organisation Sex Work Education, Advocacy & Rights Western Australia, SWEAR WA.]

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